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David Board Letter
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My New Chevrolet
Darkness -1
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David Board Letter
Working For Myself
The Abandoned Field
David Board Letter
Growing Up in WV
David Board Letter
David Board Letter
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The Aztec
1939 Piper J-3
Luscombe 8A,
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Buying the History

Most Recent

Adventures with Commander Ken

August 21, 2016

The bartender stood before our very confused band of late night merrymakers, almost apoplectic with rage. He was shouting so incoherently that we at first couldn't understand what he was saying. What could have turned him from the usually affable publican into this raving, arm waving lunatic in front of us, we wondered?

It was the late '70's, and my visits as a Representative for The Cessna Aircraft Company to Miller Aviation in Endicott New York occurred every three weeks as regular as clockwork. Regular too, were the visits to The Red Lion, the little pub located just a stone's throw from the Tri-Cities Airport. The food was good, the drinks were a fair measure and the owner seemed to like us in spite of our sometime boisterous sessions.
Tricities Airport
In addition to my work as the 'Factory Expert' with regard to the multi engine aircraft produced by Cessna, I was expected to wine, dine and otherwise entertain my dealers. As you might imagine, being young, single and social, I enjoyed this role very much. My boss was very generous and understanding regarding these turnouts, and in spite of the staggering expense accounts that I turned in, He never questioned them.

As the celebratory potential of my visits dawned on the young staff at our newest Cessna dealership, everyone at Miller Aviation seemed to become particularly atuned to the schedule of the Cessna Credit Card. No one, from the line guy to the owners of the company, missed the blowout that the first night of my visit always occasioned.

As the guy who carried the card, I soon realized that the universal joy apparent at my arrival was really for the food and the libation that I represented, and while I was well-liked by the Miller crew, I was regarded mostly as necessary to the celebration, and the adulation for me never rose to the levels enjoyed by the card.

On this particular occasion the group of us had arrived at the Red Lion much later than usual due to a late demonstration flight and were told that the kitchen had closed. Most of the guy's took it well, since drinking came before and often overshadowed eating, but there were dark mutterings from the Chief Pilot of Miller's Charter Department. This would be Ken, who ran the quickly growing department for the company and who had a reputation as a talented pilot and also, as I was to learn, had a reputation as a bit of a character.
The Red Lion Restaurant
Because the headquarters of IBM's was located a few miles away from Tri-Cities, they chose Miller Aviation to transport their personnel on their many trips to the Big Apple. Trips to The City with a load of their engineers (covertly referred to by staff as 'Zipperheads'), became as regular as a shuttle, and the department rapidly added pilots and aircraft.

Ken ran the department with skill but also with a sort of zany aplomb. He was short and portly, with piercing brown eyes and he wore his clothing as if he had dressed in the dark. He also possessed perhaps the worst wig I had ever seen. He was quick to announce anytime, to anyone listening, that not only was it a wig, but it was a bad wig. However, he would add, it was his wig and he loved it.

As the department added pilots he began referring to himself as Commander Ken, in a rather joking way, but with a minor note of seriousness that his whimsicality made hard to define. The name was so bizarre and Ken's appearance so unlikely that the title stuck, and soon no one around the airport thought of addressing him as Ken without using the Commander prefix. At a later time during a vacation, I addressed a card to him and all of his pilots with 'Commander Ken and his Lost Planet Airman' and that stuck too, making them probably the most oddly named 135 operation in the country.

Over a time, Ken and I became friends and I found his wacky sense of humor to be catching, and I found myself caught up in his slapstick ways that came out in both of us at odd moments.

For instance, one afternoon when we were scheduled to fly together, Ken took me by the apartment I was renting to pick up my flight kit. With him in the idling car I sprang out of the passenger seat and made toward the open sliding door of my apartment at full tilt, making a good six knots over the ground. When I arrived at the open door the closed and unseen screen door instantly stopped all the forward progress being made by my feet, while momentum carried the top of my body and the upper part of the screen forward. The screen trapped my hands in their original position by my sides and the screen and I toppled like a tree, face first onto the carpet inside the door. I bounced once and lay there stunned, listening to choked, hysterical laugher and the sound of Ken pounding on the dash of the car.

One night we took our dates to a beautiful restaurant which Ken had been raving about and which was new to me. As we sat with the girls, sipping our drinks and waiting for our food, Ken excused himself to go to the Men's Room. I sat for a couple of minutes longer until the power of suggestion suggested that it was time that I go too. Upon entering the rest room, I found it to be empty, but I noticed that one of the stalls was occupied. Wanting to help Ken with his ablutions, I gave the stall door a mighty kick. Disappointed that I got no reaction from him, it was at that moment that I noticed the feminine hygiene dispenser on the wall.

The ring of keys that Ken carried on his belt was impressive and he was proud of them. When anyone remarked on the number of keys on it, he would take that opportunity to prove that they were all working and vital keys by naming, one at a time, what each key was for. One day I found that I had a key to a lock that I didn't own anymore, and I waited until I could slip it unnoticed onto Ken's key ring. That night at the Red Lion one of the pilots asked him what all the keys were for. Ken began the familiar litany, fingering each beloved key while naming its lock. The confusion on his face when he reached my planted key provided the evening's best laugh for all the guys who of course, were in on the joke.

Oh yes, the hysterical pub owner. It turned out that Commander Ken had broken a thirty-five-year tradition and the owner's tranquility by being the first customer ever to order in a pizza at the Red Lion. After the lot of us were thrown en masse into the parking lot, the Commander told us he was hungry and would eat it there before going home. He wondered if the bartender would sell him a beer to go with it.


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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 A picturesque bed and breakfast located on the Tygart River in the scenic hills of West Virginia.

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